Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir said they arrested a prominent journalist on accusations of publishing “anti-national content,” in a widening crackdown against media in the disputed region.
Fahad Shah, the editor of news portal Kashmir Walla, was summoned for questioning in southern Pulwama town on Friday and later arrested.
Police said he was identified among Facebook users and portals that had published “anti-national content,” without specifying what it is. It said the content was posted with “criminal intention” to create fear and could “provoke the public to disturb law and order.” It said such content was “tantamount to glorifying the terrorist activities.”
The case relates to a gunfight between rebels trapped inside a civilian home and Indian troops in Pulwama on January 30. Police had said a Kashmiri rebel commander was killed in the fighting along with a Pakistani and another local militant. They described the fourth slain teenage boy, the house owner’s son, as a “hybrid” militant, a term authorities began using last year for alleged militants with no police record and who operate as civilians.
Kashmir Walla carried a series of reports on the fighting presenting both sides of the story. One video report quoted family members of the slain boy refuting the police. Another video quoted the boy’s sister contradicting an earlier statement from the family.
Shah, 34, was arrested under India’s harsh anti-terror and sedition laws, which include punishment of up to seven years.
Shah and few other reporters associated with Kashmir Walla have been questioned for their reporting several times in the last few years.
On Saturday, police tweeted that Shah was wanted in three cases for “glorifying terrorism, spreading fake news & inciting general public for creating L&O (law and order) situations.”
The award-winning journalist has also reported for several foreign publications.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim it in full. Since 1989, a full-blown armed rebellion has raged in the Indian-controlled part seeking a united Kashmir, either under Pakistani rule or independent of both.
The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels, and government forces have been killed in the raging conflict.
Journalists have long contended with threats in Indian-controlled Kashmir. But their predicament became worse after India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019, throwing Kashmir under a severe security and communication lockdown. A year later, the government’s new media policy sought to control the press to censure independent reporting.
Dozens have been arrested, interrogated, and investigated. Fearing reprisals, local press has largely wilted under pressure.
Last month, police arrested journalist Sajad Gul after his tweet linked a video clip of a protest against Indian rule following a rebel’s killing.
Also in January, a few journalists supportive of the Indian government, with assistance from armed police, took control of the Kashmir Valley’s only independent press club. Authorities shut it down the following day, drawing sharp criticism from media watchdogs.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists asked Indian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release Shah and “drop any investigation into his work and cease detaining members of the press.”
Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, said in a statement the arrest “shows Jammu and Kashmir authorities’ utter disregard for press freedom and the fundamental right of journalists to report freely and safely.”
“Authorities must immediately release Shah, and all other journalists behind bars, and cease detaining and harassing journalists for simply doing their jobs,” he said.